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New focus serves Charlotte investment bank well

When John Fennebresque Jr. started his namesake investment bank in 2007, he found it easy to snap up top employees leaving Charlotte’s big banks.

But six years later, he acknowledges Fennebresque & Co. grew too fast and needed to slim down and refocus. That’s why the firm now has a smaller staff and the sole aim of serving clients in the “food value chain,” meaning companies whose services range from improving ways to grow food to putting it on the table.

In a sign the strategy is working, the firm this week said it advised Research Triangle Park’s RTI International on the sale of its Center for Agricultural Environmental Biosolutions to chemical company FMC Corp. In August, the firm counseled Cary-based Lonesource, a provider of break-room supplies, in its sale to retailer Staples.

“We are excited about version 2.0,” Fennebresque said in an interview. “We are making very good headway.”

Fennebresque is part of a cadre of boutique investment banks in Charlotte that advise mid-size clients on the sale of businesses to private equity firms and larger companies.

Before founding the firm, Fennebresque worked at Bank of America, Credit Suisse First Boston and McColl Partners. His banking pedigree includes a father, John Fennebresque Sr., who is a Charlotte attorney with ties to the city’s banks, and an uncle, Kim Fennebresque, who has held top positions at investment banks in New York.

When the firm started, it tried to be “opportunistic” in hiring available bankers, Fennebresque said. After peaking at 14 employees, it’s now at 10 after two recent hires.

Besides Fennebresque, the firm’s managing directors are two former PriceWaterhouseCoopers partners, Jeffrey Barber and Laurence Fritz. Kim Fennebresque is a senior advisory partner.

“Now we’re the right size,” John Fennebresque said. “We’re a lot more nimble.”

He sees opportunity in the firm’s new strategy because of changing consumer habits and the focus of retailers such as Wal-Mart on selling more locally grown food.

“It’s a broad sector,” he said. “This will be a huge market play over the next several years.”

Rothacker: 704-358-5170; Twitter: @rickrothacker
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